Speights’ long-range shooting helps Magic beat Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS — Reserve center Marreese Speights was minding his own business on the bench Monday night when Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel decided he needed some instant offense, otherwise known as relief jumpers.
For someone who had played just 28 minutes in the Magic’s first six games — and who did not play at all in two of the last three — heating up has never been a problem for the microwave nicknamed “Mo.”
Speights exploded for five 3-pointers in the final 13 minutes, and his 18 points helped propel the Magic to a 115-99 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center.
The Magic (5-2) are averaging a franchise record 116.7 points through the first seven games.
Vogel certainly pointed to the importance of the Magic’s defense in the victory, their fourth in five games. Trailing 64-60 at halftime after allowing New Orleans 40 points in the second quarter, Orlando held the Pelicans to 35 points on 34 percent shooting in the second half, including just 15 points in the final quarter.
But Vogel was gushing about Speights coming out and setting off the fireworks.
“Part of it, quite frankly, is Mo Speights getting hot on the other end,” Vogel said. “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and when he’s bombing threes, all of sudden they’re trying to figure out what to do down at that end and they can’t make a shot. Mo Speights busted the game open.”
Speights, who learned to extend his range at the urging of Golden State coach Steve Kerr when he played with the Warriors for three seasons, said he never expected to play against the Pelicans.
However, Vogel said he thought Speights might cause some matchup problems against the Pelicans’ big frontline of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and he also liked Speights’ familiarity with Western Conference teams.
“I’m mentally prepared on the bench,” Speights said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m playing or not playing. I’m always into the game. When I get into the game, I’m already loaded. That’s part of being mentally prepared.
“Sometimes you can’t go two minutes and warm up. You got to just go play. It’s my job to make open shots.”
The Magic led 87-84 entering the fourth quarter, but Speights opened up the game by nailing four 3-pointers in the first four minutes, extending the lead to 106-89.
“Being able to sit on the bench most of the games and then have an impact like this in five minutes is remarkable,” said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who joined Nikola Vucevic and Jonathon Simmons with 20 points each.
The loss was especially disappointing to the Pelicans (3-4), who had won three of their last four and had reached the .500 mark for the first time in 981 days. But even though Davis scored a game-high 39 points — he had 26 at the half — no other Pelicans player could provide help.
DeMarcus Cousins, averaging 36.3 points in the previous three games, shot 5 of 14 from the floor and was held to 12 points in 29 minutes.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry was far from pleased with his team’s effort while getting outscored 55-35 in the second half.
“You have to play the right way, and you have to play the right way for 48 minutes,” Gentry said. “You can’t do it for 24. I thought we got away from everything that we’ve done the last few games from the standpoint of ball movement, rebounding (and) moving the basketball. We didn’t do any of that in the second half. Against a team that’s a very good offensive team, that’s the result that you’ll get. It got worse because we didn’t do the right things.”
Vogel has emphasized running and shooting 3-pointers this season as a way of “modernizing” the Magic’s offense. In finishing 29-53 last year, they averaged just 101.1 points a game. The Magic made 16 of 34 (47.1 percent) from long range against New Orleans.
“For the last few years, the 3-point shot has been a weapon not necessarily just to put points on the board but to spread the floor out for driving lanes, for cutting lanes, for rolls, for crashes,” Vogel said. “There’s just so many benefits to carrying the threat at the 3-point line. We’re seeing benefits from that.”
NOTES: C DeMarcus Cousins was named the Western Conference Player of the Week in leading the Pelicans to a 2-1 record. Cousins averaged 36.3 points on 54.4 percent shooting, 16.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks. “Even Captain Obvious called that one,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of the award. ... Gentry also said 15-year veteran PG Jameer Nelson has been a steadying influence. “He’s just a real pro,” Gentry said. “He came in without a practice and was able to figure out some of the things we were doing offensively and where guys wanted the ball.” ... Orlando coach Frank Vogel said Cousins “is one of the most unique players in the league, with the size and physicality of his game, driving from the perimeter and pounding you on the offensive glass, his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter and take bigger centers off the bounce. You try to swarm the paint, he’s a great passer, too.”